Public standards law change not in effect yet
One of the many changes contemplated in the recently passed Standards in Public Life Law is that journalists who cover proceedings before the Legislative Assembly will no longer have to fill out a registration form declaring any “interests” they may have in order to attend the meetings. During a debate on the law earlier this year, Premier Alden McLaughlin noted that registration requirements for journalists who cover the LA were “curious,” since under the current Register of Interests Law, many senior civil servants and appointed board members do not have to disclose their interests relative to government operations.
Yet, as of the start of assembly proceedings Monday, journalists who cover the LA are still required to fill out the declaration form.
Mr. McLaughlin and LA clerk Zena Merren-Chin both confirmed that, since no implementation date has been set for the new public standards law, the old Register of Interests Law still applies.
The current law requires disclosures of any pecuniary interest or material benefit that might “reasonably be thought by others to influence [a person’s] actions…” and requires the following people to register: the elected members of the Legislative Assembly, the Speaker of the House, the chief secretary [a position that no longer exists], the attorney general, the financial secretary, the registrar of interests [in this case the LA clerk], nominated political candidates and “any person having received permission to attend a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, or a meeting of any of its committees, for the purpose of reporting in any newspaper of periodical, or in any radio or television broadcast, the meeting or any matter related to the meeting.”
The “journalists registration of interests form” asks for the reporter’s name, their “sponsoring employer” and whether the journalist has any paid employment, other than with the sponsoring employer, “to which your access to the Legislative Assembly is relevant.”
If there is another employer, the journalist is asked to state the name and identify for whom the news coverage or public relations work will be done. The form asks also if the journalist “is replacing another journalist or broadcaster.”
The new Standards in Public Life Law will set quite a different standard for disclosure requirements and, while it leaves journalists off the list, it adds a significant number of public sector employees or board members who must file disclosures.
The Standards in Public Life Law, 2013, requires “a person in public life,” within 90 days of assuming the functions of office, to make a declaration to the Commission for Standards in Public Life of income, assets and liabilities acquired during the previous year.
For a candidate seeking election to the Legislative Assembly, that declaration should be made before the person files nomination papers. Thereafter, no later than June 30 of each year, the declaration must be updated.
Those required to register include all Legislative Assembly members (including the deputy governor and attorney general), the Speaker of the House, civil service chief officers and deputy chief officers, chief financial officers and their deputies, heads of departments, section or unit chiefs and their deputies, as well as top officials in statutory authorities or government-owned companies and appointed board members who oversee those authorities. Certain reporting requirements are less stringent for appointed board members than for politicians and senior civil servants.
The law does not apply to members of the judiciary.
Declarations should include: shareholdings and directorships in any company or corporate body; any contract made with a public entity; any company, partnership or association in which money is invested; any trust; any beneficial interest held in land; any investment fund in which an interest is held, any political, trade, professional, fraternal or charitable association or organization to which there is a connection; and sources of income other than salary or other emoluments of office.
The income, assets and liabilities of a person in public life include the income, assets and liabilities acquired, held or incurred by any other person as his agent or on his behalf. The bill would require the Commission for Standards in Public Life to keep the public declarations for at least five years
There are still several questions remaining regarding how matters will proceed under the new law. First, declaration forms that must be filled out are still being drafted. Also, there is some uncertainty as to exactly when a “public person” would have to file declarations following the initial implementation date, if it occurs after June 30, 2014.
The government commissions secretariat is working on a list of all those who must file the new register of interest forms.